TOOLS & EQUIPMENT FOR RELAXED & FOCUSED PARENTING
Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Essential Mothering Equipment for the Journey
When your mind seems to be all over the place, anchor it with a pen or pencil. We all do it one way or another: a shopping list, for instance, prevents you from losing your focus at the supermarket. To-do lists assure that we accomplish the tasks we assigned for a set amount of time. It would only be natural, then, to gather your thoughts, emotions, and recollections in the same fashion. And we’ve got some awesome ideas to get you started, even if all you have is 5 minutes. (Tip: A special notebook, in my experience, brings on the passion for writing.)
NICE LOOKING STATIONARY PAPER
I like to have pretty stationary paper for the notes I send with my children to school almost weekly. I believe that when my kids’ teachers receive these notes in their hands with my request to send my child home earlier, move her next to a different kid or to go easier on her with a test—they feel respected and are more likely to have my child’s needs in mind. For me personally, having left my childhood stationary collection behind, I now have a great excuse for nurturing a little stash at home!
I take my tea breaks very seriously. My kids respect them, too. After enough drinks turned cold, I challenged myself to drink my tea while it’s still hot in the midst of an afternoon with the kids (i.e., long before their bedtime). It takes some advance planning and scheduling into your day, very much like coffee breaks are an integral part of an office’s daily routine. One of my prized (and hard-earned) parenting lessons was that becoming a mother who could peacefully enjoy her drink while the kids are around her made me more likely to find peace of mind in stressful parenting circumstances as well. Still don’t think you can pull it off? Here are my top tips for nailing it down.
FOCUSED HANDS-ON PROJECT
Perhaps my biggest frustration in life as a stay-at-home mom, and especially before my oldest child reached first grade, was the nagging feeling that I don’t have a clue where this ship is heading and that it’s simply not moving fast enough. Reaching milestones and experiencing the satisfaction of coming full circle (such as toilet training successfully, labor and birth, end of the year pre-k celebrations and birthdays) were far and wide between. While it’s more typical for mothers to lose their focus and their sight of the purpose of parenting when the children are young, it’s a common experience when the kids are older as well. A simple tried-and-true fix for this is to occasionally engage yourself in activities and projects that are short-term and result oriented by nature. A 5-minute reading break as I walk between the sink and the laundry pile. Perhaps preparing a fancy, well thought out meal or having a weekly dinner with friends? Is it a shopping spree? Knitting the most basic scarf? Practicing your neglected piano? Whatever it is, recognize what you’re passionate about and be prepared to respond to anyone who tells you it’s a luxury—including your spouse.
Our iPad comes in handy when the sink is threatening to collapse under the weight of dirty dishes and pots. I remember eyeing it suspiciously when my mother in law gifted us with it, but sure enough it had turned into my faithful companion as I bravely tackle the horrendous 2-day pile. It’s one of my most productive listening opportunities throughout the week. (If you’d like to give it a try, the Good Life Project podcast is packed with inspiring content.)
A word of caution: You need some flexibility to work with this tip. If, like me, you prefer to wash the dishes after school hours, you may end up pausing the show more than you actually get to listen. If that’s the case, be prepared to continue listening another time, and enjoy the children’s presence instead.
What’s your planner of choice? After years of trial and error fumbling with mobile-phone and online calendars, day-planners, different sizes, etc., I found that what works for me best is a monthly calendar—the one you hang on the wall. What didn’t work for me was not having any type of planner whatsoever. I would too often get phone calls from frustrated secretaries asking me how come the dentist is still waiting for my children to show up. I felt so overwhelmed by not knowing exactly what’s coming up for me that I was hesitant to schedule a night out with my husband (a key factor in better parenting)!
A PRIVATE, RESTFUL CORNER
For years I would curl up in the corner of the couch with my tea once the morning storm was over and the kids were off to school. I was very happy with the humble arrangement until recently an urgency to upgrade overcame me. After exploring my (very small) house for relaxation-corner options, we eventually bought the porch swing you see in the picture—a great place to hang out in the evening when it’s cool and everyone is sleeping! (Conventional hammocks were out of the question because they reminded me too much of the summer camps of my teenage years). When I’m resting on the swing alongside the small Moroccan coffee table that I had pulled out of storage in honor of the swing, I’m as happy as a monkey with a peanut machine.
BROOM & APRON
A broom: so un-feminist and yet one of my most relied on tools for peace of mind! My broom is to me what a tail is to a dog—and I wag it very often throughout the day. Honestly, when my house looks like a disaster zone and I sweep it in preparation for mopping, more often than not I discover that the mere sweeping had restored a sense of cleanliness and order! I bet if I had wall-to-wall carpets, the vacuum cleaner would be my best buddy. And what’s the apron got to do with it, besides keeping my shirt clean? Donning it reminds my kids and myself that now mom’s focused on cleaning.
In my neighborhood, where most families walk their younger children to school rather than relying on a car, I unabashedly take my kids in a double stroller (for as long as they are willing to go along with it) despite some raised eyebrows. It works for me when I need to get home to prep lunch for my older children; it’s great for them on hot days after long hours in school. And in the afternoons when we go to playgrounds, a double stroller is a real asset.
Even now, when my youngest children have both been weaned and toilet-trained and long after I’ve stored my baby slings—I’m not yet ready to retire my double stroller and the flexibility that comes along with it.
One thing I don’t want to have to worry about is lipstick gone bad throughout the day when I’m hands-on with my kids. At some point I had simply given up “looking nicer” altogether. But then, I discovered a lipstick that lasts all day (for real!), regardless of how much I eat and shout that dayJ. And it completely changed the way I treat my appearance myself—hands down, the days I neglect to use my lipstick (and black eyeliner) are also the days in which I wear a skirt over my pajama pants. Because taking the extra minute to pick an outfit that truly flatters you is more likely to happen when you like the face you see in the mirror.
SHABBOS (Sabbath) CANDLES
The candles that Jewish women light on Friday night, to welcome the holy day of rest, are also an auspicious time for mothers to pray for their children and future generations.
I know that even if I neglected to bless my kids during the week and daven (pray) for them, I will make up for it when lighting the Shabbos candles.
PARENTING BOOKS THAT KEEP GIVING
I love and recommend the 3 books listed below because each one of them in their own way puts the parent back in the parenting, which is what UpsideDown Parenting is about. As in UpsideDown Parenting, the following books focus on the journey. One of my favorite quotes is “Man is born in the middle, lives in the middle, and dies in the middle.” I’ve always been drawn to books that resonate this idea.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Elaine Meizlish and Adele Faber. This book, which I read for the first time 10 years before I even had children, provided me with the words that I so desperately needed to soothe myself. It saved me then from believing the criticism I heard from the adults around me and from getting lost in self judgment. All of us, children and adults, long to be validated, appreciated, trusted, forgiven and embraced as we are, and this book tells us exactly how to express these values in words to our children.
The Child Whisperer, by Carol Tuttle. A more recent discovery of mine, this book still inspires me greatly. However, it had been a real game-changer for my pre-teen and teenage girls. The author’s articulate explanation of the 4 different types of children has helped my teens and pre-teens to recognize and appreciate their strengths, while at the same time possibly saving them from popularity contests with their peers (no kidding!). Honestly, I think the information in this book gifted them (and me) with the clarity regarding themselves that many people don’t achieve even when they’re well into their thirties.